New Delhi, Oct 15: Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday via video conference initiated the first blasting for Asia's longest tunnel, the Zojila Tunnel project on NH-1 in Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir. He said, "The tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity between Srinagar valley and Leh (Ladakh plateau) on NH-1, and will bring about an all-round economic and socio-cultural integration of Jammu & Kashmir (Now UTs of J&K and Ladakh)."
This project holds strategic significance as the Zojila Pass is located at an altitude of 11,578 feet. During winter, it remains closed due to heavy snowfall, thereby cutting off the Ladakh region from Kashmir. It involves the construction of a 14.15 Km long tunnel under Zozila pass on NH-1 connecting Srinagar and Leh through Dras & Kargil. It is one of the most dangerous stretches in the world to drive a vehicle & this project is also geo-strategically sensitive.
The Minister said, "This will be the longest tunnel of Asia, adding that the Zojila tunnel project will improve the socio-economic scenario in the region. Shri Gadkari informed that about Rs 4000 crore was saved with the re-designing of this tunnel." He expressed confidence that the project, though has six years' completion schedule, will be completed before end of the present Government's tenure with the Prime Minister inaugurating the same.
Lieutenant General of J&K Manoj Sinha called the event a turning point in the development of this region. He said he can easily call the tunnel a modern-day marvel. He expressed hope that the project will lead to enhanced employment opportunities for the local youth and give a boost to the native economy.
Lieutenant General of Ladakh Radha Krishna Mathur complemented the efforts of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for adapting to the changed scenario due to repeated changing of contractors. He said, this tunnel will go a long way to develop the Leh region.
Zojila tunnel project was given to the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL) in July 2016 for implementation on Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) model. Work was awarded to M/s ITNL (ILFS) at Rs 4,899.42 crore and approval of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) was obtained for a total project cost of Rs 6,808.69 crore for completion within seven years.
The contract agreement was signed on January 24, 2018. Work progressed up to July 2018 but the project was stuck due to financial problems faced by ILFS. The contract was terminated on January 15, 2019. In February 2020, Gadkari reviewed this whole project in detail and in order to reduce the cost and execute this project on priority, the matter was referred to an expert committee.